I still don’t understand Paul’s views on salvation (Bible tweets)

Previously in the series: Genesis and ExodusLeviticus through DeuteronomyJoshua through PsalmsProverbs through Song of SongsIsaiah through EzekielDaniel through MalachiMatthewMark, Luke and John.

My tweeting my way through the Bible project is almost finished. All that’s left are Hebrews, James, some forgeries few people care about, and Revelation. There are a lot of things I could talk about at this point, but now that I’m done with all the Pauline epistles (forged and otherwise), that’s strongly relevant to criticisms of Christianity re: Christian intolerance: who on earth did Paul think would be saved?

If you’re looking for prooftexts, two of the strongest ones are in 1st Corinthians. On the one hand, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 gives a list of types of people who won’t inherit God’s kingdom, which includes fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, and maybe-depending-on-which-translators-you-believe homosexuals. On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

Oddly, there’s a lot of talk in Paul’s letters about believers being saved, which might make you think unbelievers won’t be, but I can’t find any statement to that effect in Paul’s undisputedly authentic epistles. 2nd Thessalonians 2:11-12 seems to say that unbelievers are damned, but the authenticity of 2nd Thessalonians is disputed. And 1st Corinthians 7:14 says an unbeliever can be “made holy” through their spouse!

There’s also a lot of stuff that seems an awful lot like it supports the doctrine of predestination, and the strange little verse that is Romans 11:32 “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” This makes me wonder if perhaps Paul combined predestination and universalism: God has predestined everyone to be disobedient for awhile, then repent eventually and be saved. The fornicators et al. won’t inherit God’s kingdom… but in the end there won’t be any of those! God has predestined all of them to repent of their fornication etc. eventually, so it’s no problem!

To be honest, while I find that hypothesis somewhat attractive, my guess is that it’s wrong. It seems like a contrived way to reconcile lines that are never explicitly said to fit together in that way. Whatever the case, it remains true that countless Christians over the centuries have managed to read Paul’s letters and come to the conclusion that all non-Christians are damned. And yes, that includes such luminaries as Saint Augustine.

That leads me to think that maybe the right answer to the question here is “Paul wasn’t very clear.” My experience in the philosophy world makes me rate this conclusion a lot higher. Name a famous philosopher, and you’ll find all kinds of arguments among historians of philosophy as to what he believed, and there are a few debates where I myself have an opinion but with a lot of them, I tend to think we should all step back and realize that having later become famous is no protection against having been an unclear writer–or even against not having had straight in your head what you were trying to say.

And THAT, in turn, makes me appreciate the strength of an argument that John W. Loftus made in an essay for his anthology The Christian Delusionthat if the Bible were really divinely inspired it would be a hell of a lot clearer–but it isn’t so it wasn’t.

Oh, by the way, Acts is similar to John in being SUPER antisemitic, same with 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. But some people think the latter was not written by Paul, but was a later insertion into the text.

  • Acts 2:14-17: Peter argues people at Pentacost weren’t drunk by citing a prophecy in Joel about the “last days.”
  • Acts 2:44-45: All Christians held all their property in common. They all sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to any in need.
  • Acts 3:23: Peter quotes command from Moses that “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.”
  • AA 4:12 On Jesus “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
  • Acts 4:32: Among early Christians, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
  • AA 4:32 “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”
  • Acts 4:35 “They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
  • Acts 5:1-10: A man and his wife die because they sold something and didn’t give the money to the apostles.
  • IDK why I didn’t see this before, but whenever the NT talks about how “your fathers” (addressing Jews) killed all the prophets…
  • …(e.g. Acts 7:52), that’s pretty anti-semitic. The assumption that people can be blamed for what their ancestors did.
  • Acts 9:5 “…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” King James say what?
  • Acts 9:18: The scales fall from Saul’s eyes. Another popular idiom that comes from the Bible.
  • Acts 10:34 “God is no respecter of persons.”
  • Acts 13:50: “The Jews incited the [people] of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.”
  • Acts 14:2 “The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”
  • Acts 14:4 “The residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.”
  • This is maybe not so obvious on a casual reading, or without comparing it to, say, Galatians, but it’s pretty clear that the Book of Acts…
  • …was largely written as propaganda in a dispute within the early Christian community.
  • Acts 15:1: Some early Christians taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved.
  • Acts 15:29: But no, to be saved you just need to abstain from meat offered to idols, and from fornication.
  • Tweet ALL the Acts of the Apostles! #hyperboleandahalf#drunkonsoju
  • Some translations have Acts 17:22 describe the Greeks as “superstitious.” Others say “religious.” Guess they were the same in ancient Greek?
  • Acts 18:6: Paul gets mad at those darn Jews, says, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
  • Acts 18:12: “the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal.”
  • I’ve read the Bible twice through before… how did I not notice how antisemitic it was before now? Granted, I knew of a few things (like…
  • …”his blood be on us and our children!”) but… wow. Just wow.
  • When I say “Bible” there, I was thinking of the New Testament, but arguably you can find the seeds of antisemitism even in the Hebrew Bible.
  • After all, even in the Hebrew Bible, you often see God punishing ALL of the Jews for the sins of SOME Jews. So if SOME Jews killed Jesus…
  • Acts 20:35: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Another nice Bible idiom.
  • Those words are not attributed to Jesus in any Gospel, though.
  • Romans 1:20-27: Because people worshiped idols, “God gave them up to degrading passions.” Then they (both men and women) became gay.
  • Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
  • Romans 11:7 “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.”
  • Romans 11:8 “It is written ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.'”
  • Romans 11:9 “And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them…
  • Romans 11:10 … let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent.”
  • Romans 11:23 “And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in.”
  • Romans 11:26 “All Israel will be saved.”
  • Romans 11:32 “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
  • Romans 13:1 “There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”
  • Romans 13:2 “Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
  • Romans 13:3: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Paul did not see the “Romans persecute Christians” thing coming.
  • Romans 14:23 “But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat… for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
  • 1 Cor 5:1-5: Man had sex with father’s wife, so hand him “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved.”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:3 “Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?”
  • 1 Cor 6:9-10 Wrongdoers, incl. “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites” and “drunkards” won’t inherit God’s kingdom
  • I should note that the words in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that the NRSV translates “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” are of uncertain meaning…
  • …I can’t find the article right now, but I’ve seen it convincingly argued that one means “effeminate,” and the other’s meaning is unknown.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:1 “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2 “But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:9 “Is better to marry than to burn.”
  • 1 Cor 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:29 “The appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:31 “For the present form of this world is passing away.”
  • 1 Cor 9:22 Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:14 “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?”
  • 1 Cor 12:8-10: Gifts of the spirit: healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:18 Paul says, ” I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” I had forgotten about that verse.
  • 1 Cor 14:34: “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.”
  • 1 Cor 14:35 If women want to know something, “let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this world” has blinded unbelievers. So that’s my problem!
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14: Don’t be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, because “what fellowship is there between light and darkness?”
  • 2 Corinthians is a bit on the boring side, even for a Pauline epistle.
  • Previous tweet may not be entirely fair, but I did definitely find the Pauline epistles much less readable than the Gospels when I first /1
  • started reading substantial chunks of the Bible in my early teens. The thing I’m not sure about is whether that was just because Paul’s /2
  • letters have much less to support the lovey dovey Christianity I grew up with, rather than their being objectively boring. /3
  • Galatians 1:8-9: If anyone, even an angel from heaven, preaches a different gospel from what Paul has preached, let him be accursed.
  • Galatians 1:15-19: Paul doesn’t seem to have talked to other apostles for three years after his conversion.
  • Galatians 2:11-14: Paul says, “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face” for supposed hypocrisy regarding eating with gentiles
  • Galatians 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”
  • Eph 1:4 God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” Another Calvinistic verse.
  • Ephesians 1:5 “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ…” Some versions say “predestined.”
  • Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been (pre)destined according to the purpose of him…”
  • 1 Colossians 3:18 “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”
  • Colossians 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
  • Col 3:22 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only… in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.”
  • 1 Thes 2:14-16: The Jews killed Jesus and the prophets. They displease God and oppose everyone. God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
  • 2 Thes 2:11-12: “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion… so that all who have not believed the truth… will be condemned.”
  • 2 Thes. 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” I’d heard (roughly) that saying before, somehow never made connection to the Bible.
  • 1 Tim 1:20 Paul turned a couple people “over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (Note: this letter not actually by Paul.)
  • 1 Tim 2:9: “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently… not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:12 “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
  • 1 Tim. 13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
  • If I were a Christian, I’d be relieved to find out that 1st Tim. is a forgery. Related thought: someone should bring back Marcion’s canon.
  • 1 Tim 3:3: A bishop must be “not greedy of filthy lucre.” Another classic bit of English from KJV.
  • 1 Timothy 5, entire chapter: wow, interesting spin on the whole “take care of widows” thing.
  • 1 Tim 6 “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Another classic phrase from Bible. Somehow, tho, I thought it was attributed to Jesus.
  • Titus 1:12-13: “Paul” quotes Epimenides’s saying, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons,” then says that’s true.
  • Titus 2:9 “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back.”
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